Nicholas Johnson’s recent guest column claimed there’s a much easier, win-win option to the current proposal for a new Johnson County justice center on the ballot in May.
However, Johnson’s idea of creating a second, separate facility at another location — rather than one streamlined complex — is severely flawed. It would not only create redundant spending the county can’t afford, but it also would not solve the serious security and safety issues for citizens who would continue using the old courthouse.
• Creating a stand-alone building for the jail and criminal proceedings would not solve the continued security and safety threat for civil proceedings at the old courthouse.
Johnson suggests holding criminal proceedings to the newer, more secure facility and leave civil matters at the old courthouse. However, civil cases often can be more contentious than criminal cases when it comes to heated divorces, bitter custody battles and emotional foreclosures.
The old courthouse simply does not have the space to put in the security precautions necessary to detect weapons and other harmful devices without impacting the appearance of this architectural gem.
Other changes to make the building safer and ADA compliant would not be just “spiffing it up.” They would be major and expensive undertakings that also would change the look of the building.
The current proposal on the ballot May 7 would avoid all that by building a new building connected to the current courthouse that addresses all security, safety and accessibility needs without having to make any major changes to the old courthouse.
• Two stand-alone buildings would create serious redundant spending. The county already is spending more than a million dollars per year paying other counties to house the overflow of inmates it can’t accommodate because of space issues. Why waste more?
Two stand-alone buildings would require two sets of security equipment, paying two sets of security team salaries and benefits, as well as two separate clerk of courts offices to handle criminal cases in one building and civil in the other.
Now that’s nuts. [Note: This is a reference to the other article that, referring the the Justice Center, proclaimed, “That’s nuts.”]
Connecting the two buildings under the current proposal streamlines that spending into one secure system with one staff and one clerk of courts and the sharing of other common functions and space.
In the long process of coming up with the current ballot proposal, the idea of a second stand-alone building was investigated, researched and eventually dismissed. Common sense tells us it’s smarter to pay for one thing instead of two at twice the price.
If we have learned anything from this years-long process, it’s that you can continue to committee and question a project to death. We now have a smart, cost-effective proposal on the ballot that has survived this extensive process.
Now is the time to do the right thing and vote “yes” for the justice center on May 7.
Jim McCarragher is a member of the Johnson County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.